DISCLAIMER: This review is not an endorsement to see or to forbid to see this movie. The purpose of this review is the practice of discernment.
At first the thought of taking my boys to see yet another DC Comic Book hero was akin to poking my eyes out with hot coals, or at least one of them. I survived Batman Begins so surely this one would be no worse. So off I went to the IMAX, twelve-year-old boy in tow, to be dazzled by the much awaited film The Dark Knight.
For years I cleaned a room full of Batman regalia such as posters, bed linens, rugs and a Gotham City alarm clock that illuminated the time on the wall. I tripped over batman action figures that were larger than most dolls I owned as a girl. My bank account was depleted due to the cost of purchasing batteries for the Batmobile and various other tools of the hero trade. It was an investment that at that moment I wasn’t sure would pay any dividends in the heart my boy.
Still, here we were at the height of the hype, sitting on the front row with our necks craned like a sea-gull anticipating the stuff that lads dreams are made of…but should it be? As a Christian home school mom, that was the question that nagged me. It wasn’t the angle at which our heads were hinged at that moment, but the angle at which this so-called hero would stand. What worldview lessons would Christopher Nolan translate to my child through this arguably powerful media?
Do no harm was my motto, don’t portray Batman as the anti-hero or the Joker with empathy and we’ll come away with a few hours of entertainment. Nothing more, nothing less. However, much to my bewilderment I was awestruck as the film transformed two parts of the triad (truth, goodness and beauty) into a riveting plot of action and suspense. I left the theatre with tear filled eyes knowing that I had just witnessed G.K. Chesterton’s one angle.
This is not a typical movie review, but rather an apologetic for the strengths and weaknesses of a Biblical worldview found in some of the characters and storyline of Nolan’s 2008 film, The Dark Knight.
Joker. The film opens with a scene depicting Batman’s arch nemesis, not as any ordinary villain, but one of a particular nefarious nature. One of an other humanly component that appears at times beyond our experience to grasp. The worse human atrocities in history doesn’t inform us well enough to comprehend the Joker. Even Hitler, though a maleficent of tremendous magnitude, did not personally mutilate or destroy his victims. He left that to henchmen while enjoying the self-deception of political struggle or the higher cause.
The Joker states his cause to be anarchy. Chaos. Even Alfred Pennyworth sees it in this light, “Some men aren’t looking for anything logical like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to see the world burn.“ But does he? He claims to not have a plan, “do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it. You know, I just… do things.” Yet he consistently rigs elaborate plans that rely on a certain order to work.
In past portrayals of the Joker, he came off to be criminally insane or an anarchist, but in The Dark Knight he embodies something more nihilistic. He is obsessed with the question of morals values and beliefs. He is out to not only destroy order, but moral authority.
Joker’s psyche is a mingling of super human evil and a mind so twisted that it would appear to go beyond reprobate. At times the film moves us to a place of empathy for him as he explains his scars. We all understand the problem of pain as did Shakespeare,“he who jest at scars never felt a wound.“ But we are quickly reversed by the manifold differing accounts that he give for his scars, and left feeling duped.
Even so, any one or a combination of all the Joker’s proposed pathology ring true. He joins the famous atheists Nietzsche, Hume, Russell, Sartre, Camus, Hobbes, Voltaire, Freud, and Wells when he states “you remind me of my father…I hated my father.” He seeks patricide…death of the father. In this way he is counted among the cursed. “And he [John the Baptist] will turn the hearts of the children to the father and the father to the children, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”
In both intended and unintended ways, the Joker mimics the method, madness and pathology of the Biblical Satan. I say unintended because Nolan, whether having a Christian worldview or not, must borrow lumber from the framework of our worldview in order to have the audience “buy in.” The foundational moral principles are not only right for all, but at some level understood by all.
Lucious Fox. As Batman’s voice of reason on a logical and moral plain, Fox represents ethics and intellectual authority. Bruce Wayne turns to Fox for business acumen, while Batman relies on his advanced technological skills in providing him with the characteristics of a god, vis-à-vis omnipotence and omniscience. In this respect Fox is akin to the Word of God which points us not to the aforementioned attributes, but to the character and nature of God that transforms our inner man providing us a supernatural peace and power over this world when we follow the ethical and moral law.
Interesting to note that it was Batman that showed a more Biblical worldview in stacking virtues in an order of importance, while later in the story Batman fails to recognize the right virtue at the right time. In the plot, infringing on privacy was necessary for a time in attaining the greater good. The scripture teaches that the greatest of love, hope and faith is love. Likewise there are many examples of one virtue taking precedence over another in scripture. It is wisdom and discernment that teach us their right use.
Alfred Pennyworth. If father hatred drives so many of humankinds broken pathology, then surely a present father would have the opposite effect such as in the case of Pascal, Burke, Mendelsohn, Wilberforce, Tocqueville, Kierkegaard, Chesterton, Barth, Bonhoeffer and Lewis. Even surrogate fathers as in the case of Hilair Belloc provide a much-needed strength in the spiritual, emotional and physical life of boys.
Bruce Wayne had the love and the support of his biological father at the critical time of his formation from a toddler to boyhood. But it was absent from boyhood to manhood. Pennyworth fills the void and steers him along in a gentle manner. Always with Master Wayne’s best interest at heart, he at first believes it best for Wayne to endure the utter heartbreak of knowing that his girlhood love Rachel has chosen another with which to marry. However, upon hearing that Wayne believes in his heart that Rachel had chosen him, instead of Dent, and that the only “solace” he had in her death was that she would wait for him…Pennyworth decides that the virtue of truth is at this time not as important as that of love. “Sometimes the truth isn’t good enough…sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.”
District Attorney Harvey Dent. Batman feels that Gotham needs a hero with a face, he believes Dent is this man. The Joker knows that while Dent is a crime fighter and all about law and order, this may be his downfall. Those who rely on themselves to fulfill the law are often disappointed in the outcomes. Dent while surely giving his life and efforts courageously to the cause of righteousness leaned on his own might and moral integrity. He believed in chance, but only the “chance” that he made for himself (thus the 2 headed coin). He was the king of his destiny, a positivist in a world of heads and no tails.
By no strength of his own or even that of Batman, the horrible reality hit home when his beloved Rachel was killed by the Joker. No longer the face of a hero, he now had two faces. Although the coin, blackened on one side, was now capable of chance, Dent still ruled the lives of others by superseding the luck of the toss. The Joker had succeeded in destroying Gotham’s hero and moral authority in utter bitterness.
Bruce Wayne/Batman. He is a hero, though imperfect, and we know this because he stands at the one angle most of the time. His courage beckons him to run toward the battle into the fight, not away from it. This is a characteristic of the one angle, that is, if this cup can pass from me, but if not “thy will be done.”
Throughout history there has always been the great discussion of heroism. Answered by writers such as Shakespeare in Henry the VI’s band of brothers, “we would not die in that man’s company that fears his fellowship to die with us.” By orators like Patrick Henry, “and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.” By poets in Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade, “into the valley of death rode the six hundred.”
Even in modernity, a real hero is measured by the angle. Fireman Stephen Siller died on 9/11 after making a three-mile run with his gear strapped on his back. It was his day off and yet he was charging to the battle, not away from it.
Nolan’s Batman too, races to meet the Joker in the fray where you have the unstoppable force paradox, i.e. “What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?” He has rules. Joker doesn’t. According to Nolan, they call it even because perhaps for good to exist, there must be evil.
A better explanation? Batman mistakes the virtue of mercy as higher than that of justice. Twice he allows the Joker to escape death. The consequences of the first time are unfathomable as it leads to the death of his dear Rachel and downfall of Harvey Dent. On this point, the hero falls at one of the infinite angles. For all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God. As Adam Smith put it, “mercy to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent.”
However, in the last scene Batman’s hero status is revived and he once again stands at the one angle. He realizes that he must be the hero Gotham city needs, not the one they deserve. He must be falsely accused and hunted down by dogs. A man of no reputation. As Christ who instead of being the earthly king that they wanted him to be, became despised by all as the Romans tore at him like dogs. This is the one angle…the angle of the cross. The hero stands at the angle of the cross, an absolute attestation to the truth of God’s character. No greater love does a man have then to lay his life down for his friend. (John 15:13)
Game Theory. Lastly, the film was steeped in John Nash’s Game Theory, which basically applies mathematics to determine the best outcomes in decision making when others are involved.
The Joker loves to put his victims in situations where no matter what choice they make – they can’t win. But he ups the stakes when he involves the choices of others. It’s no more a game of what you will choose alone, but you have to figure in what other victims will do and from that make your best decisions. This is the idea behind game theory.
The Prisoners Dilemma is a type of game theory that is brilliantly played out in the movie with the scene of the two ferry’s filled with passengers. The first with ordinary, law abiding citizens and the second with prisoners from Gotham. Both of the ferry’s have explosives attached and Joker is telling them that whoever blows the other one up first will survive. For a better explanation of the exact options they had in applying mathematics, click here. But one thing to note about this game…in many tests…Christians could not be relied upon to give the same results because they ultimately would be self sacrificing.
Another example of Game Theory is the opening scene and is explained here.
The Dark Knight Dir. Christopher Nolan. Perf. Christian Bale and Heath Ledger.
Warner Brothers, 2008.